Virtual opioid use disorder provider Bicycle Health announced Thursday that it is partnering with Albertsons, a supermarket and pharmacy chain, to expand access to buprenorphine treatment for opioid use disorder.
Boston-based Bicycle Health is a digital health company that works with payers and serves those struggling with addiction by offering medication for addiction treatment, therapy and peer support. Some of Bicycle Health’s payer customers include UnitedHealthcare, Aetna and Cigna. Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons is the second-largest supermarket chain in the U.S., with a footprint across 34 states.
Through the new partnership, Bicycle Health providers can prescribe buprenorphine extended release injections (otherwise known as Sublocade) to opioid use disorder patients. The medication can then be administered by a pharmacist at an Albertsons pharmacy in a private room. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that is used to treat those with opioid use disorder. Bicycle Health then provides follow-up care and behavioral health support through its virtual program.
About 2.5 million adults in the U.S. battled opioid use disorder in 2021, but only one in five received medications to treat the condition. By working with Bicycle Health, Albertsons hopes to change this statistic.
“Offering recovery injectables at our pharmacies fill a need in our communities where patients are seeking alternative treatment options to manage opioid use disorder in a stigma-free environment,” said Erin Shaal, vice president of prescription procurement, specialty and patient care at Albertsons Companies, in a statement.
Sublocade is injected once-a-month, whereas Suboxone (another form of buprenorphine) is taken orally each day. Ankit Gupta, CEO of Bicycle Health, contended that a monthly injection is less of a burden to patients than an oral daily medication.
“It’s much easier to be adherent to the medication protocol,” Gupta said in an interview. “It’s also much easier from a confidentiality standpoint. Some patients don’t want to have Suboxone at home or lying around.”
He added that Sublocade could also be better for patients who are at higher risk of diversion. Medication diversion refers to the illegal use or distribution of prescription drugs.
The partnership’s services are available at more than 700 Albertsons pharmacies across 17 states. They are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington. Bicycle Health and Albertsons plan to expand to more states in the future.
Their partnership has no financial component, Gupta said. Instead, both companies will bill insurers independently for their services.
Bicycle Health first learned this kind of support was needed after it launched a partnership with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to serve those leaving prison. That’s a population that especially struggles with accessing support for substance-use disorder. Through that partnership, Bicycle Health provides virtual opioid use disorder services to patients living in the Bureau’s residential reentry centers.
“Inside the prison, they’re increasing the administration of Sublocade and the utilization of Sublocade,” Gupta said. “So when a patient is on Sublocade and they leave, they need to continue that treatment. It was really hard for us and the BOP to find local providers across the states that we’re providing this care for.”
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